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Building Baby's First Library: 25 Must-Have Books
A buying guide to old-school and new classic books for babies
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Most of us have heard how important it is to have books at home and read them, even to young kids. But how do you know which titles your baby or toddler will love? With help from the Children's Book Council Joint Committee and the Quicklists Consulting Committee for the Association for Library Service to Children (a division of the American Library Association), we've created this list of all-time and newer classics to help expectant and new parents stock their baby's bookshelf.
By Don Freeman
A funny, timeless story of a slightly shabby teddy bear in need of a home (and a button for his overalls). He finds both, and a friend, when a little girl named Lisa uses her savings to buy him at the local department store.
Buy Corduroy at amazon.com, $4.06
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
By Eric Carle
The book's stunning mixed-media collages and simple but memorable story have charmed millions of readers since its 1969 debut. It follows the development of a newborn caterpillar on his trail through a multitude of snacks—who doesn't dream of eating one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon in one day?—and his transformation into a butterfly. Little fingers will enjoy poking the holes the caterpillar leaves behind as he munches his way through the story.
Buy The Very Hungry Caterpillar at amazon.com, $6.07
My Very First Mother Goose
Edited by Iona Opie
Cheerful illustrations featuring Rosemary Wells' (of "Max and Ruby" fame) stylized animal characters accompany more than 60 nursery rhymes both familiar and lesser-known, and help to introduce young listeners to the pleasures of sing-song language.
Buy My Very First Mother Goose at amazon.com, $17.68
Close Your Eyes
By Kate Banks
A mother tiger encourages her restless cub to settle down to sleep by describing the dreams he may have, reassuring him that she'll be there when he wakes, and that "Dark is just the other side of light. It's what comes before dreams." Aw. Lush paintings by Georg Hallensleben (And If the Moon Could Talk) capture the off-kilter world of dreams and the beauty of the natural world, as the scenes shift back and forth between reality and fantasy.
Buy Close Your Eyes at amazon.com, $13.58
Is Your Mama a Llama?
By Deborah Guarino
Simple, rhyming stanzas and bright, silly illustrations carry readers through Lloyd the Llama's quizzing of his friends about their mamas. When his buddies (including a bat, a seal, a duckling and a calf) give Lloyd clues about their moms, he has to guess what kind of animal they are.
Buy Is Your Mama a Llama? at amazon.com, $6.29
By Margaret Wise Brown
You know you're a parent when you can recite this iconic book by heart. The poetic story follows a little rabbit preparing for bed as he says goodnight to everything in his room, and the world outside his window. This classic bedtime story features black-and-white drawings alternating with the boldly colored illustrations of the room, which darkens as slumber nears.
Buy Goodnight Moon at amazon.com, $4.06
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed
By Eileen Christelow
Extending the well-known song, this picture book features five little monkeys preparing for bed, as they bathe, put on their pajamas, brush their teeth and then jump on the bed, falling off one-by-one. Kids will enjoy the repetition and rhyming, and parents will totally relate to the exhausted mama monkey.
Buy Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed at amazon.com, $12.76
Guess How Much I Love You
By Sam McBratney
A young bunny and his dad sweetly try to one-up each other with how big their love for the other is in this sweet tale, illustrated with gorgeous watercolors. It's a lovely tale of unconditional love, perfect for the babe you love "all the way to the moon—and back."
Buy Guess How Much I Love You at amazon.com, $9.48
By John Schindel
In this photographic board book, simple rhyming word pairs (penguins splashing/penguins dashing and penguins drooping/penguins pooping) introduce the daily life of penguins. Author John Schindel partnered with a variety of photographers for more than a dozen other books in the "Busy Book" series, including Busy Doggies, Busy Monkeys, Busy Pandas and Busy Horsies.
Buy Busy Penguins at amazon.com, $6.29
"More More More," Said the Baby: 3 Love Stories
By Vera B. Williams
Told in an engaging musical rhythm, the book introduces readers to multiracial and multigenerational stories about three toddlers (Little Bird is Asian-American, Little Pumpkin is African-American and Little Guy is white) and their caregivers. The lilting text and joyous, vibrant illustrations successfully impart the message that love is universal. A Caldecott Honor Book.
Buy "More More More," Said the Baby: 3 Love Stories at amazon.com, $6.29
By Olivier Dunrea
Gossie the yellow gosling loves her red boots and wears them every day until suddenly they disappear. She looks everywhere for them—under the bed, over the wall, in the barn and under the hens—until she finds them on the feet of another, smaller gosling. Engaging illustrations and gentle humor make this book a hit with both young children and adults.
Buy Gossie at amazon.com, $7.66
By Rod Campbell
A classic lift-the-flap book, the story begins with a child's letter to the zoo, requesting a pet. A series of animals arrive—under flaps to be uncovered by the reader—and are discovered to be not quite right (too heavy, too scary, too naughty), until at long last, the perfect pet appears.
Buy Dear Zoo at amazon.com, $9.26
In the Tall, Tall Grass
By Denise FlemingBright, colorful illustrations show animals and insects found in a child's backyard, as seen through a caterpillar's point-of-view, as they crunch, munch, zip and sip their way through the day. Little ones will enjoy looking for the yellow and orange caterpillar on each page and counting the insects as they listen to the simple, rhyming text.
Buy In the Tall, Tall Grass at amazon.com, $7.19
Good Night, Gorilla
By Peggy Rathmann
This clever bedtime tale follows a mischievous gorilla who snatches a zookeeper's keys and releases all of his animal friends to secretly spend the night at the zookeeper's house. With minimal text, the narrative is told mostly through pictures, inviting parents and children to describe what's happening and invent the details of the story.
Buy Good Night, Gorilla at amazon.com, $12.78
Are You My Mother?
By P.D. Eastman
This classic tale follows a baby bird on a quest to find his mother after falling from his nest. He asks a kitten, a hen, a dog, a cow, an airplane and a snort (actually a steam shovel) if they are his mother, before eventually being reunited with her, back in the nest.
Buy Are You My Mother? at amazon.com, $5.21
Kitten's First Full Moon
By Kevin Henkes
In this Caldecott Medal-winning book, black-and-white illustrations capture the struggle of Kitten who, upon viewing her first full moon, mistakes it for a bowl of milk and embarks on a quest to reach it. Although the milk in the sky eludes her, the story ends happily when Kitten returns home from her adventures to find an actual bowl of milk waiting for her.
Buy Kitten's First Full Moon at amazon.com, $12.64
Love You Forever
By Robert Munsch
A sweet, tear-provoking story of the evolving relationship between a boy and his mother. It follows the pair from his infancy into his adulthood, as their roles shift and responsibility for the other shifts from mother to son, who has become a father to a little girl of his own by the book's end. Do not attempt to read without tissues close at hand.
Buy Love You Forever at amazon.com, $8.40
By Roberta Grobel Intrater
Close-up photographs of babies' faces capture their many moods, from laughing to yawning to pouting to crying, in this board book from the "Baby Faces" series. The captivating photos will enchant babies, and parents will be charmed by the cute expressions the book elicits from their own babe.
Buy Peek-a-boo! on amazon.com, $4.08
The Snowy Day
By Ezra Jack Keats
This Caldecott Medal-winning classic picture book depicts the wonder and delight a child can find when snow blankets his world, making snowballs (one of which he brings home in his pocket!), snow angels, a snowman and loads of fun.
Buy The Snowy Day at amazon.com, $12.98
Time to Get Dressed!
By Elivia Savadier
Little Solomon insists on dressing himself but gets everything wrong (shirt on his legs and pants on his head) until Daddy looks at the clock and steps in to help. Parents and little ones will relate to the fierce independence of this toddler, who shouts 'ME!' with every article of clothing.
Pat the Bunny
By Dorothy Kunhardt
A sweet, interactive book that encourages children to smell (the flowers), touch (the soft bunny), feel (Daddy's scratchy face) and play (peek-a-boo with Paul). First published in 1940, the book remains a must-read fave.
Buy Pat the Bunny at amazon.com, $5.92
Wheels on the Bus
Parents and children alike can participate in the repetitive lyrics and motions (the swishing of the windshield wipers and the beeping of the horn) of this classic children's song in picture book form, from Raffi's "Songs to Read" collection. The illustrations show a rickety, old bus moving an assortment of quirky passengers through a village. Traditional musical notation and lyrics are included.
Buy Wheels on the Bus at amazon.com, $5.39
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
By Bill Martin, Jr.
Beautifully and boldly illustrated by Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar), this classic picture book is easy on the ears, with its rhymes and repetition. The question-and-answer format invites young listeners to participate in "reading" the book.
Buy Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? at amazon.com, $5.10
Whistle For Willie
By Ezra Jack Keats
Colorful, bold illustrations once again capture Peter, the snow-loving little boy from The Snowy Day, this time in summer. The story follows Peter's attempts to learn how to whistle for his daschund, Willie. Little readers will appreciate Peter's determination and ultimate success, and will enjoy his urban adventures along the way.
Buy Whistle For Willie at amazon.com, $11.93
By Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrated by Clement Hurd (Goodnight Moon), and in continuous publication since 1942, the book tells the story of a mother's unconditional love for her child. As her baby bunny tells her of his plans to run away, the pair engage in a make-believe game of chase, where she morphs into a variety of forms and characters (a crocus and a mountain climber) to find him, no matter how far away he travels.
Buy Runaway Bunny at amazon.com, $3.94